Day 11: Making sense of sin

The first of a series of guest posts from Fr Martin Williams, former Archdeacon of Margam and one of our number at St Mary’s.

It could well be that, after the worst of the current pandemic is over and the inevitable public enquiry begins, we shall be in for months, if not years, of recrimination and the apportioning of blame. Our society may not believe in sin, but it certainly demands that if anything goes seriously wrong, someone should be held to account and at least ‘apologise’.

Such apologies are then dismissed as insincere or not enough and so the process goes on until everyone is ready to forget about it. The purpose of it all is not so much the common good, certainly not the redemption of sinners, but the vain hope that such a thing ‘can never happen again.’ But, as the Rabbi said, ‘Bad things happen to good people!’

Jesus did not die on the cross to prevent such a thing from ever happening again, but to take away the sins of the whole world.

Making sense of sin

Now ‘sin’ is not part of the vocabulary of modern western society, except perhaps in relation to personal health and fitness or personal appearance – and we know how much misery that can cause so many young people! No, ‘sin’ makes no sense except in relation to God, to those who believe in him and want to love him and please him.

‘Sin’ makes no sense except in relation to God, to those who believe in him and want to love him and please him.

Every Mass begins with an acknowledgement of sin and a prayer for forgiveness. All Christians are encouraged to prepare spiritually for Mass in penitence and faith.

This can include regular Confession and Absolution in the Sacrament of Reconciliation but all of us, however, should approach the Eucharist in penitence and faith – faith in the ‘one, full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’, as the old Prayer Book expresses it.

Cosmic Christ

During the Eucharistic prayer, the priest raises the Host and the Chalice. At that moment we adore Christ crucified and risen in his sacramental Presence, aware of the cost of our redemption and the infinite extent of God’s unconditional love for us sinners.

The Mass then is a celebration of the cosmic absolution achieved by Christ’s sacrifice. If he has died for the sins of the whole world, he has certainly died for me, however grievous my sins may appear, or not appear, to me to be.

St Paul and other saints have considered themselves to be the greatest of sinners. This is not some sort of masochistic competition! It is a sign of how close the saints have come to the vision of God and his awful holiness. It is only in looking at God, in looking at the cross, that we become aware of the burden of sin he has borne for us and to which we have contributed.

If he has died for the sins of the whole world, he has certainly died for me, however grievous my sins may appear, or not appear, to me to be.

The burden of guilt has been lifted

When we ‘acknowledge our sins’ at the beginning of Mass, we may or may not be aware of particular sins, but we pray that we and all for whom Christ died may experience forgiveness of sin and the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Sorrow for sin itself brings freedom – we know our sins are forgiven, the burden of guilt has been lifted – and we pray, as we take part in the Mass, that all humanity may experience the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice in freedom from guilt – and recrimination.

As we pray at every Mass: forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.    

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